KV: Are you a writer yourself? What do you write?
LR: In addition to my agenting, every now and then I get an idea and write a book myself, but this is definitely a fun sidelight, not a focus. I write children's books and tend to focus on shorter forms, since they aren't as much of a commitment as, say, a young adult novel. I'm the author of a picture book, BUYING, TRAINING, AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR (Knopf), illustrated by Marc Brown, of the creator of Arthur, and a chapter book, ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY, DRAGON DREAMS (Dial), illustrated by French artist Melanie Florian.
In addition to being an interesting experience on the merits, being a published author has helped me be a better agent, with a greater awareness of what it's like to be on the author side of the table.
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?
LR: I've been agenting for fifteen years, and have been with the amazing Andrea Brown Literary Agency for my whole career. I have a Ph.D in English Literature, and, in my previous life, spent eight years teaching in various English Lit departments, including an adventuresome term as a visiting professor at Osaka University of Foreign Studies in Japan. My field of study was 19th-century British literature. Since in my scholarship and teaching, I focused on authors who are in some ways today thought of as "children's" authors, moving from academia to agenting and specializing in children’s and YA seemed a very natural transition.
When I moved to Northern California with my husband in 1998, he was geographically limited, and there were no tenure-track jobs in my specialty at any of the local universities, so I got an appointment as a lecturer at Santa Clara University, and began agenting. I soon realized that I had an entrepreneurial part of my personality and that agenting was actually more satisfying to me than academia. I eventually made the decision to agent full time, and I've never looked back. I feel lucky that I've had two fulfilling and complementary careers. I believe I have the best job in the world now!
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
LR: My philosophy as an agent is that I'd rather work with a small group of carefully curated, brilliant clients and invest intensively in them. I'm quite hands-on as an agent and only take on work about which I am passionate because I invest such significant time and energy in each project. My business model involves working with a small number of writers, investing in each of them substantial time and attention at all stages of the writing process--conception, creation, editing, publication, marketing--and getting a mutual return on that investment over the course of a long and prosperous career.
I'm looking for writers with whom I can have a productive and pleasurable working relationship. I expect the authors with whom I work to be passionate, committed to a writing career, professional, and transparent and honest with me--as I am with them.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
LR: Incredibly exciting client work that is coming out soon includes:
*Ellen Hopkins' SMOKE (Margaret McElderry/S&S)
*Tessa Gratton's THE LOST SUN (Random House), 1st book of United States of Asgard
*Shannon Messenger's debut YA LET THE SKY FALL (Simon Pulse)
*Catherine Ryan Hyde's WALK ME HOME (Amazon Publishing)
*Kimberly Derting's DEAD SILENCE (Harper), 4th book in THE BODY FINDER series
*Maggie Stiefvater's 2nd book in THE RAVEN CYCLE (Scholastic)
What drew me to all of these authors is their strong voice; masterful writing; brilliant conception; rich, highly idiosyncratic world building; and vivid, conflicted, unforgettable characters.
KV: Popping in to say if you haven’t read Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, another of Ms. Rennert’s (relatively) recent sales, you MUST. I can’t tell you how much I loved that book (although I tried, as you’ll find out if you click that link). All right, back to the interview!
What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
LR: I'm a literary omnivore, and I represent all categories of children's book, picture books through Young Adult. In the adult market, I represent upmarket women's fiction and a smattering of narrative nonfiction.
My focus is definitely fiction over nonfiction. If a work surprises me, moves me, compels me to read on, and has the essentials I look for, then I'm open to anything in terms of the children's and YA market. In the adult market, I only represent the aforementioned categories, though I'd be tempted by an upmarket women's fiction/thriller in the vein of GONE GIRL.
KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators?
LR: I am interested in picture book writers who aren't illustrators.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
LR: Pet peeves:
*Hyperbolic praise of one’s own work
*Lack of awareness regarding what I represent
*Lack of professionalism (i.e. It's clear that the author hasn't taken the minimal amount of time or effort necessary to familiarize herself or himself with what agents do or with a basic knowledge of how the publishing industry works)
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?
LR: Surprise me! If a work is strong in the fundamentals and if both the voice and concept are compelling, I'm open to most anything.
I'm tired of seeing paranormal and dystopian novels that feel like repeats of already successful books on the market and don't bring something different and exciting to the table.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
LR: The best way to query me is to follow the guidelines on the Andrea Brown Literary Agency website, andreabrownlit.com. I also suggest checking out my author/agent site, laurajoyrennert.com, because it will give you more of a sense of whom I am, what I represent, and what excites me.
Thanks, Ms. Rennert, for these responses! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s glad you left academia to become a literary agent:)
Have a great weekend, all!